Twice in the last week, I have seen articles about being the parent of teens. Both of them discuss how difficult it is, and both authors made comments that there are no support groups for parents of teens the way there are for moms of little kids. At CatholicMom.com, Lisa Henley Jones wrote:
“I turned to my friends and asked what they do for resources and to develop parenting skills for these teen years. One friend laughed and said, ‘drink wine.’ I laughed but upon leaving it hit me. We are all in the same boat. We are struggling through parenting teens without the same support systems we had when the kids were babies or toddlers. Why is that?”
Lisa goes on to muse that perhaps it’s because the problems that come up during the teen years are as much our children’s problems as our own, and to protect their privacy, we don’t share with our friends what’s happening. Our families fold in on themselves and work on the hurt from within, shielding our children from prying eyes by withholding information from others.
I know that our family went through a struggle with our older daughter that threw me so far that I felt lost with her. I started having panic attacks, I couldn’t sleep, I worried incessantly, I feared for her in many, many ways. I prayed like I had never prayed before, and when that didn’t seem to work, I gave up praying at all until I finally sat at Adoration one day and closed my eyes and visualized myself walking with her to the Cross and leaving her with Jesus. I started closing my eyes at the Offeratory at Mass and visualizing leaving her with the gifts at the altar. I was trying hard to let Jesus help me carry the cross. It was hard.
It was made harder by the fact that the problem was one of such a personal nature that I didn’t feel like I could share it with anyone. Aside from my husband, I told no one what was happening. To this day, I will not discuss it with another soul outside of our little family of four.
But for more than two years, I was rocked to my core. I felt every single day as if I were drowning, and I couldn’t find the lifeline. I had levels of anxiety that I hadn’t even known existed. There were times that I sat at Mass feeling completely numb, whole weeks that I felt numb. I felt more alone in those two years than I had ever felt before.
I stopped discussing the issue with my daughter, but kept praying when I could. I started praying a daily Memorare for her at Lauds (a practice I still keep today). I begged God to help me, to help her. I remember sitting at Mass one week, feeling particularly desperate and empty and anxious, and the second reading had St. Paul telling me to not be anxious about anything.
I spent the entire rest of the Mass tuning everything out, counting bricks on the walls of the church, and desperately holding in the flood of tears that were about to overwhelm me. I coudln’t even cry out to God on that day. I just wanted to … die. Really, that day I wished I could just die. It was horrible, and I knew it was horrible, but I couldn’t see out.
Then, a few weeks later, I mentioned (very tentatively) a few thoughts that had occurred to me about my daughter. I approached her with great caution because every other conversation we had ended in an impasse and with me wanting to hide in my room and cry.
“Oh,” she said. “That hasn’t been a thing for a while. I thought I had told you that.”
Um, no. I would have remembered you telling me this was over.
And just like that, it was dropped.
The anxiety over it comes sometimes, and I have to almost speak aloud a reminder that it’s over – that it’s not an issue any more. But the anxiety is rare now. Thank God, it doesn’t overtake me like it did a few years ago.
So when I read Ann Voskamp’s piece about raising children, I literally burst into tears while I was reading it.
“The one boy that was harder than all the other 5 kids all put together?
The one who made me think he was either headed to delinquency hall, or I was literally headed to an insane asylum, who made me lock myself in the mudroom, slink to the floor and weep a primal grief? At least three times a week?
The kid’s on scholarship. He bought his own house the week before his 18th birthday. That he rents out to 7 other roomates.
He won a grant this past term for his pitch of a new agricultural tech start up. At 19, he has his own team of engineers. A handful of times every week, he messages me: ‘Love you, Mom. You’re doing great.’ He sponsors more than a dozen kids through Compassion. He’s one of my very best friends. One of my very favourite people in the whole wide world. I never want conversations with him to end.
A road always looks one way — until it makes a u-turn.“
There’s still no easy answer to raising teens. It’s still hard, and there’s still an isolation to it because we can’t share our kids problems with the world. Sometimes all we can do is ask for prayers without naming the intention, hang on tight to God, and not give up.
Love isn’t easy. One look at the Cross will tell us that. Love is difficult. Love takes work. Love hurts sometimes. Sometimes, love is even lonely and dark and burdensome. But love is still the greatest of virtues.